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Warning, may contain nuts! How graphene will make your food allergen free

Stone age, bronze age, steel age, silicon age… What next?


I think this century will be the age of nanomaterials. Reducing the size of electronics to the nanoscale directly translates into reduced material input and power consumption. At the same time nanomaterials allow diversifying into new applications; for example, non-invasive health tracking or allergen sensing. 

Application wise, graphene is one of the most promising nanomaterials. Despite being only a single atom thick, it still shows excellent conductivity. This makes graphene films particularly sensitive to any surface changes. For example, it can be used to detect even the tiniest amount of molecules adsorbed onto the surface and so enable quick determination of the quantities of various species in complex mixtures.

Disruptive change was never initiated by the discovery of a useful material alone, but rather by enabling their manufacture on large scale. Over thousands of years we have mastered production of thick, bulky materials, but how can we manufacture atomically thick sheets of material?

My research is focused on developing methods for fabrication of meter square- sheets of graphene in such way that it can be integrated into  conventional silicon based technologies to enable the design of industrially relevant sensors.

One of the first applications we are targeting is the sensing of allergen residuals in food processing lines. “May contain nuts” labels are very common on packaged foods as it is difficult to detect the traces of nuts when cleaning large food processing lines. With our graphene-based allergen sensor we aim to detect even the tiniest amounts of allergens in the waste water and help to remove the “may contain nuts” label from your food packaging in the future.

Philipp Braeuninger

Translational Prize Fellow


 

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